How Experience in Membership-Based Fundraising Can Build a Better Designer

Insight

by Sarah Muse, 10.21.2019

About two years ago, I sat down with the designer on staff to review logos for the brand new young-professional membership group at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM). It was in these early meetings that I paused and realized that I would rather be doing the job of the designer in front of me. Creating an interesting and engaging brand that embodied the spirit of this new membership group sparked an interest in me that was different from how I felt about the fundraising side of it.

As I write this now as a designer at Beyond Definition, it is not lost on me how any experience in fundraising is extremely beneficial to a creative position, be it a content strategist, copywriter, or designer. The initial challenges are very different: raise a certain amount of money vs. solving a client’s problem using strategic color, typography, word choice, imagery, etc. But the means to achieving these challenges are very similar.

Know Your Target Audience

As a fundraiser, it is absolutely critical to know your target audience. In an art museum, in particular, you might be raising money for a show featuring an artist who appeals to a certain generation, or you might be raising money for scholarly research, fellowships, or general museum improvements. These situations bring varying levels of appeal to different demographics. One of the most important sides of design is identifying what problem needs to be solved. Step one in this problem-solving process is identifying a target audience, client or constructed persona that helps facilitate how design choices are made. These choices, whether it is the font you choose, or the colors, patterns, images, and design styles, the structures will work most effectively when they resonate best with who is seeing them.

Be Friendly

Another important step in the fundraising process is getting to know your prospects on a much more personal, friendly level. If you don’t get to know someone, you might not know that their grandmother was an avid collector of American western scenes, and they are looking to foster relationships that might help support a future show on American western landscapes or portraits. Or maybe you could miss the fact that they grew up in San Francisco and love the Bay Lights installation by Leo Villareal because it makes them feel at home. Designing is about knowing your client, of course as designers we’re working with a set budget (most of the time). So knowing your client and what they’ve liked or disliked in the past can help you be more effective and eliminate multiple unnecessary rounds of changes. In fundraising or design, knowing clients on a personal level might help you find what they want even if they don’t know it themselves. 

Step one in this problem-solving process is identifying a target audience, client or constructed persona that helps facilitate how design choices are made. These choices, whether it is the font you choose, or the colors, patterns, images, and design styles, the structures will work most effectively when they resonate best with who is seeing them.

Show Appreciation 

Stewardship of clients and donors can’t be overlooked when it comes to fundraising. If you accurately steward a donor for long enough, show them that you appreciate them, continuously show gratitude and thanks, you have a much better chance that they’ll continue to enjoy your institution, feel connected to it, and give over a longer period of time, and hopefully larger donations! My experience in freelance design and at an agency has proven that this is true of the designer-client relationship as well. The longer you work with someone, the higher the chance of developing a wholesome, genuine relationship with them, and as their business grows, your company’s portfolio might too!

See the Big Picture

Having experience in fundraising helps to establish a big-picture image of how things work. It’s as simple as that. In fundraising, you have a better idea of an institution as a whole because you see more than what another department might, simply because it’s your job. There’s an exhibition coming up in 5 years, it’s going to cost X amount of money, we only have X, how are we going to get there in order to make this happen. In design, having this big-picture vision can help in many ways. Although it isn’t typical to share all the details with a designer, having the tools to see beyond your assigned task is helpful nonetheless. I definitely have more empathy as a designer about low budgets, because I’ve worked with budgets before. It isn’t always ideal but if you approach it the same way you do fundraising, it can be helpful in coming up with alternate solutions or finding the most impactful change. Ok we have X amount of money, and we need to solve X problem in X amount of time, how are we going to do this?

 

I definitely have more empathy as a designer about low budgets, because I’ve worked with budgets before. It isn’t always ideal but if you approach it the same way you do fundraising, it can be helpful in coming up with alternate solutions or finding the most impactful change.

Make Your Pitch

One of the most important parts of both fundraising and design is, of course, making your pitch! As a fundraiser, you have to be able to engage with your audience or prospect, convince them that their donation is important and will have long-lasting benefits for both parties. The pitch is often a moment that has been several months or even years in the making, and can make or break an entire deal. Likewise, designers have to have confidence in their own work, be able to explain the design choices and make their creative director or client see the new design having long-lasting benefits. Just as in fundraising, the work put into a pitch can be several months or years in the making, plus long nights, early mornings, and multiple revisions. But it ultimately comes down to showing your client that the choices you and your team have made are the right ones and how they’ll benefit their company or product.  And, a little charisma in both situations can go a long way. 

Development officer (fundraiser) and graphic designer might not seem like they exist on the same career platform. But after making a career change from the former to the latter myself, I’ve found that at the core of things, the two jobs are more similar than one might think. As Beyond Definition (formerly Bates Creative) strengthens its focus to serve mission-based organizations, now is a better time than ever to draw from these parallels. Our current and future clients are using fundraising tools every day to grow their membership bases and work toward their purposes. What they might not know is that we as creatives are using those same fundraising tools to tackle design challenges.

Sarah Muse

Sarah Muse

With a background in communications and fine art, Sarah is all about visual problem solving. As a Designer, she puts clients and users first by creating visually appealing products and offering creative solutions to the tasks at hand.

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